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New Product Offers ‘Wine Without the Hangover’… Because There’s No Alcohol in It

New Product Offers ‘Wine Without the Hangover’… Because There’s No Alcohol in It

A new “red grape powder” wants to take all the fun out of drinking wine

Vinia, a new powder product from BioHarvest, claims to offer the same benefits as wine without the alcohol, calories, or sugar.

Vinia is a new product from BioHarvest in the form of a “red grape powder that provides the benefits of wine, without the killer headache,” according to a press release.

Vinia promises, as a “revolutionary superfood,” to do things like support healthy blood pressure and blood circulation “with no blurred memory or painful side effects to worry about.”

If you hadn’t already gathered from the headline, the reason you won’t experience any of these side effects is because Vinia doesn’t actually contain alcohol, and therefore does not qualify as wine.

If you’re interested, you’re left, as far as we can tell, with a grown-up version of Kool-Aid powder, which you’re welcome to mix “in water, smoothies, yogurts, oatmeal, etc.”

Or you can skip the powder and stick with grape juice, the original non-alcoholic wine. Does grape juice offer those same cardiovascular benefits? Not all, but many kinds, “especially the variety made from red and dark purple Concord grapes,” do indeed.


The Inventor of Hangover-Free Synthetic Alcohol Has Already Tried It (and Hopes You Can Soon)

Forget 2050. David Nutt now says his synthetic alcohol could be on the market in just five years.

Back in 2016, I reported on David Nutt, the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, who was working on something called 𠇊lcosynth” — a synthetic version of alcohol billed as having the fun effects of booze but without the negative toxins and hangovers. At the time, he said he hoped that that alcosynth could replace traditional alcohol by 2050, but as often happens in modern science, that timeline has seemed to condense considerably. In a recent discussion with The Guardian, Nutt suggested that his synthetic alcohol could hit the market in as soon as five years. In fact, he’s already consumed it himself.

“We’re allowed to try it whenever we want,” he told The Guardian of his test batches, which he mixes with fruit juice to mask the taste. “We tested a lot of possible compounds to try to find which are most likely to work. It would be dishonest to spend millions of pounds on something when you haven’t a clue if it does what you want.”

Nutt says he first wrote about the concept back in 2005 his research into how alcohol affected certain brain receptors led him to theorize that such a product was possible. At the time, however, critics thought it was too far outside of the box because, as Nutt put it, 𠇍isruptive technology didn’t exist.” But in a world where things like lab-grown meat are now becoming a reality, Nutt finally moved forward on his dream to end hangovers and alcohol-related damage to people’s bodies.

In the end, Nutt said creating the compound — which is now branded Alcarelle — was more challenging than simply coming up with the idea, 𠇋ut the real challenge is taking that molecule to a drink,” he told The Guardian. “The regulatory side is much harder than the science.”

Still, Nutt says he and his business partners have a five-year plan for Alcarelle. They’re attempting to raise about $26 million to bring it to market, hopefully by supplying it to other drink companies to include in their products. “We think, once we’re approved and on the market,” Nutt’s business partner, David Orren, explained, “we are going to see an amazing and wonderful explosion of creativity. The drinks industry employs really creative people.” You can almost sense the mixologists already taking it way too seriously.


ABV Meaning

Before we start, it's good to know the basics. You've probably seen ABV around while consuming drinks, but what does it actually mean? ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume (sometimes shown as alc/vol). This is a standard measure of how much alcohol is in a given volume of an alcoholic beverage (shown as a volume percent).

ABV gives us a good understanding of how strong a particular alcoholic drink is going to be. Common ABV values for typical drinks are:

  • Low-alcohol beer: 0.5% - 1.2%
  • Beer: 4% - 6%
  • Cider: 4%-8%
  • Wine: usually 12.5%–14.5%
  • Rum: 40%
  • Gin: 37.5%–50%
  • Whisky: usually 40%, 43% or 46%

As you can see, ABV can vary drastically between different types of alcohol. If you're struggling with Asian Flush, or alcohol flush reaction, you may want to look for low-alcohol or reduced-alcohol drinks instead of traditional drinks.

Low-alcohol refers to beverages which have an ABV between 0.5% and 1.2%, such as the low-alcohol beer mentioned in the chart above.

Reduced alcohol means a drink has lower alcohol content than the average strength of a particular drink. This means that wine with an ABV strength of 5.5%, is a reduced alcohol wine. While it's much lower than usual (wine is typically 12.5%-14.5%), it's still higher than the low-alcohol category.

Both options are reasonable choices when wanting to avoid alcohol flush reaction. While you're still consuming alcohol, the alcohol content is much lower than normal. You will probably still experience flushing symptoms, but at a lower severity.

Plus it means you can still hang out at the bar with friends without having to sip water all night.


Alcohol-free drinks with winelike complexity? Yes, it’s possible

They set out to recreate ancient Roman Gatorade, but along the way, Scott Friedmann and his team of culinary scientists at Acid League, the boutique vinegar start-up based in Guelph, stumbled on something that might just change the way we drink.

The two-year-old brand, as savvy home cooks and some of the world’s best chefs will tell you, has already disrupted the condiment market with their line of Living Vinegars, flavourful fermented inventions made from ingredients like mango, smoked malt and peach brine.

It was while studying the history of vinegar that they struck upon the idea for their latest project, Wine Proxies. “We landed on this concept called posca,” explains Friedmann, one of the co-founders. “It’s sometimes called the world’s first energy drink, and it was a beverage for the Roman army. At that time, wine got you drunk and water could make you sick, neither things good for an army, so they would take vinegar and mix it with water, honey, herbs and spices to create this drink for soldiers.”

Friedmann’s idea was to recreate posca in an upscale way, but after one especially successful experiment built around orange wine vinegar, it was obvious they had something much more compelling on their hands. By layering juice blends with tea and spices, they’d created a style of non-alcoholic beverage that approached the look and feel of wine, without the buzz and inevitable hangover.

“When we decided to try going beyond posca, we realized the world was our oyster,” he says, “and we had this question of ‘Are we trying to kind of mimic wine, or are we trying to just create amazing beverages?’ I think we ended up doing both.”

The first batch of three Proxies, in dark glass wine bottles with colourful wax necks and labels created by artists from around North America, was released late January through Acid League’s online, direct-to-consumer wine club. The three styles, inspired by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundian Pinot Noir and of course posca, were flavoured with things like green Sichuan peppercorns, blood orange, myrrh and oolong tea, and sold out almost immediately.

“We’ve had a huge embrace from the sober-curious and sober community, from the halal community and from the pregnant community,” Friedmann says. “I think it’s been incredible for people who either don’t want to drink during the week, or just don’t want the health impact of drinking as much as they have during COVID.”

Heather McDougall, founder of the wine shop Sips Toronto, has also seen a large increase in the number of inquiries she’s fielding from customers looking for low- or no-alcohol alternatives. Nonetheless, her experience with most of these products caused her to approach Proxies with some caution. “I had pretty low expectations,” she admits. “Having tasted a bunch of other alcohol-free wine and spirit-free beverages, I always expect them to be a lesser version of something I know to be good.”

McDougall’s first taste of Proxies, however, impressed her so much that Sips became one of the first retail stores in the city to stock them. They’re super versatile, she says, “because they have structure very similar to the structure of wine — they have acid and tannin and fruit and body. The only thing missing is alcohol.”

For their February releases, Acid League turned to popular wine styles like Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Northern Rhône Syrah, but also looked beyond wine for inspiration. Their Terre Sauvage was blended around the idea of the Canadian landscape itself.

“We tried to create a product that was kind of reflective of Canadian home soil,” Friedmann explains. “We used some apple vinegar and some McIntosh apple, but also spruce tips and cedar, Labrador tea and juniper and caraway and maple syrup, to create something that almost tastes like a trail, like you’re hiking in Canada.”

Looking beyond wine for ideas and flavours will prove crucial to the brand’s success, according to Nick Oliveiro, head sommelier at Peter Pan Bistro in Toronto. “They’re not just trying to imitate wine — they are their own thing and that’s really important,” he says. “They might offer the same range of complexity as wine, but they have different flavour profiles. When the restaurant reopens, I could easily see myself using them because they do have unique flavour profiles I would be happy to explore with food pairings.”

The next batch of Proxies — a nod to Chardonnay built around roasted coconut vinegar and Bai Jian white tea a sun-dried tomato vinegar and Kashmiri chili red inspired by Sangiovese and a unique citrus-driven experiment featuring orange blossom vinegar — will be released later this month.

We might not be any closer to knowing what Roman Gatorade tasted like, but as Pliny the Elder (almost) said, In Proxies Sanitas: “In Proxies there is health.”

Buzz-free bottles for your bar cart

Consumers are thirsty for interesting non-alcoholic or low-ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks. Here are five making a splash.


Could ‘alcosynth’ provide all the joy of booze – without the dangers?

‘This is what my brain looks like,” says David Nutt, showing me an intense abstract painting by a friend of his that is sitting on the windowsill in his office. Nutt’s base at Hammersmith hospital has a cosy, lived-in feel – a stark contrast to the gleaming white laboratory he oversees as director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London. Lab coats hang on a hook by the door, an ancient kettle sits in the corner and next to the painting is an unruly collection of objects that offer clues to his research interests: brain-shaped awards, an atomic model of Nutt’s invention for detecting inflammation in the brain of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, a poster for the 1967 film LSD Flesh of Devil and two carved wooden mushrooms – the final items hinting at his role at Imperial’s psychedelic research group.

All that is missing is something to do with the demon drink, to reflect Nutt’s ambitious plan to bring a safe synthetic alcohol substitute called Alcarelle to the masses. Nutt has long been developing a holy grail of molecules – also referred to as “alcosynth” – that will provide the relaxing and socially lubricating qualities of alcohol, but without the hangovers, health issues and the risk of getting paralytic. It sounds too good to be true, and when I discuss the notion with two alcohol industry experts, they independently draw parallels with plans to colonise Mars.

Yet Alcarelle finding its way into bars and shops is starting to look like a possibility. Seed funding was raised in November 2018, allowing Nutt and his business partner, David Orren, to attempt to raise £20m from investors to bring Alcarelle to market. “The industry knows alcohol is a toxic substance,” says Nutt. “If it were discovered today, it would be illegal as a foodstuff. The safe limit of alcohol, if you apply food standards criteria, would be one glass of wine a year.”

As a psychiatrist, he says, “most of my professional life I’ve been treating people for whom alcohol is a problem, and a lot of my professional research relates to that”. A decade ago, Nutt was sacked from his position as a government drugs adviser after questioning the skewed moral standards by which we judge drug and alcohol use (he memorably said that horse riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy). Shortly after this, he presented data in the Lancet showing that booze is more harmful to society than heroin or crack. Yet Nutt is no prohibitionist. He enjoys a “very small” single malt before bed, and even co-owns a bar, the irony of which causes him to erupt into one of his frequent and endearing guffaws. “My daughter and I own a wine bar in Ealing,” he says, after he has recovered his composure. “I’m not against alcohol. I like it, but it would be nice to have an alternative.” One day, he hopes to add Alcarelle to the menu at his bar.

Nutt with his business partner David Orren … trying to bring Alcarelle to market. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

The long road to Alcarelle began in 1983 when Nutt was a PhD student and discovered an alcohol antidote. Yes, a drug that actually reverses drunkenness. “I was studying the effects of alcohol on the Gaba system,” he says. Put very simply, alcohol’s primary brain effect is stimulating the Gaba receptor. When they are stimulated Gaba receptors calm the brain, by firing off fewer neurons. His study was, says Nutt, the first proof of this. Nutt gave rats alcohol, administered a chemical that blocks Gaba receptors and the rats sobered up.

The antidote was too dangerous to be of any clinical use because if you accidentally took it when sober, it would cause seizures (like severe alcohol withdrawal does). Besides, as he says, “what’s the point of stopping someone being intoxicated when the alcohol is destroying their liver and their brains?” Crucially, however, Nutt now knew that stimulating Gaba was the route to tipsy bliss – if only we could do so harmlessly.

Twenty years later, while working on a government report on the future of brain science, addiction and drugs, it dawned on Nutt that scientific understanding had reached a point at which this could, in theory, be achieved. “I wrote a little thought piece in the Journal of Psychopharmacology,” he recalls. “People said it was ‘too challenging, too crazy’. It was 2005, and the concept of disruptive technology didn’t exist. They said: ‘It’s clever but you’ll never do it,’ but I kept talking about it because it was clever and we can do it.”

What Nutt now knows is that there are 15 different Gaba receptor subtypes in multiple brain regions, “and alcohol is very promiscuous. It will bind to them all.” Without giving away his trade secrets, he says he has found which Gaba and other receptors can be stimulated to induce tipsiness without adverse effects. “We know where in the brain alcohol has its ‘good’ effects and ‘bad’ effects, and what particular receptors mediate that – Gaba, glutamate and other ones, such as serotonin and dopamine. The effects of alcohol are complicated but … you can target the parts of the brain you want to target.”

Handily, you can modify the way in which a molecule binds to a receptor to produce different effects. You can design a peak effect into it, so no matter how much Alcarelle you consume, you won’t get hammered. This is well-established science in fact Nutt says a number of medicines, such as the smoking cessation drug varenicline (marketed as Champix), use a similar shut-off effect. You can create other effects, too, while still avoiding inebriation, so you could choose between a party drink or a business-lunch beverage.

Coming up with the concept was the easy bit, says Nutt. Finding the right molecule was more challenging, “but the real challenge is taking that molecule to a drink. The regulatory side is much harder than the science.” Because Alcarelle has not undergone safety testing yet, only Nutt, Orren and a few others at the lab have tried it, mixed with fruit juice because it doesn’t taste nice by itself. “We’re allowed to try it whenever we want,” says Nutt. “We tested a lot of possible compounds, to try to find which are most likely to work. It would be dishonest to spend millions of pounds on something when you haven’t a clue if it does what you want.”

Nutt, Orren (a business adviser and former tech entrepreneur) and their team have come up with a five-year plan. Alcarelle will probably be regulated as a food additive or an ingredient, so food regulations rather than clinical trials apply. To get approval, they need to create a drink product complete with its own bottle, and they are working with food scientists on that. This process usually takes about three years, but, because of Alcarelle’s unique functional qualities, they expect it to take longer.

“There will obviously be testing to check the molecule is safe,” says Nutt. “And we need to show that it’s different from alcohol. We will demonstrate that it doesn’t produce toxicity like alcohol does.” For example, when our liver metabolises alcohol, it produces the carcinogen acetaldehyde, and consistently drinking too much can increase the risk of mouth, throat and breast cancers as well as strokes, heart disease and liver, brain and nervous-system damage. “And of course we don’t want hangovers. We have to show it doesn’t have the bad effects of alcohol,” says Nutt.

Ultimately, the aim isn’t for Alcarelle to become a drinks company, but to supply companies in the drinks industry with the active ingredient, so that they can make and market their own products. You would expect that the alcohol industry would view Alcarelle as its nemesis, but Orren says that industry players “are approaching us as potential investing collaborators”. This doesn’t surprise Jonny Forsyth, a global drinks analyst at Mintel. “The industry is increasingly investing in alcohol alternatives,” he says. “We have seen a lot of investment in cannabis … They’re looking at nonalcoholic gins and soft drinks because they know people are drinking less [alcohol], and this is a trend that is going to carry on. If the science is right, and if it’s easy to mask the taste, I think it’s got a great chance.”

Gerard Hastings of the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling has advised the House of Commons health select committee during its investigations into the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. He believes that the alcohol industry would embrace Alcarelle just as Coca-Cola has embraced the zero-calorie sweetener stevia, and the tobacco industry has invested in vaping, “to own the solution as well as the problem … If they can continue to sell products to the health-conscious and the less health-conscious, then they will do so.” Similarly, lab-grown meat (meat cells cultured without the need to rear and kill animals) has seen heavy investment by global meat suppliers.

Forsyth sees the fact that you can never get drunk on Alcarelle as an enticing marketing angle for younger consumers, who, he says, are driving the downward trend in alcohol sales. For them, he says, “it’s much cooler to be healthy, but it’s also about control. They don’t want to end up on Instagram looking drunk their manager might see that. Something that would automatically control their drinking would be very appealing.”

One potential stumbling block may be that Alcarelle isn’t natural. “Natural things aren’t always healthy,” says Forsyth, “but in the mind of the consumer, ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ are pretty much the same concept. One of the reasons cannabis is doing so well is because it’s a plant.” However, he sees the joys of alcohol without the hangover as “a pretty powerful reason to partake of it even if it’s not natural”. One way to address the problem would be to flavour the drink with natural botanicals, but Nutt and Orren are keen to go further. “We have a project to see if we can find these molecules in nature,” says Orren.

Alcohol, meanwhile, is natural and has been with us for ever. It is seen as God-given – after all, Jesus turned water into wine – and is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that, at least for older generations, on some occasions there can be no substitute. Alcarelle isn’t aiming to replicate fine wines or Nutt’s single malt. “We think, once we’re approved and on the market,” says Orren, “we are going to see an amazing and wonderful explosion of creativity. The drinks industry employs really creative people.” He notes the celebrity-chef status of mixologists, “because people are really interested in the formation of tastes and flavours”.

Of course, tipsiness is perhaps the greatest flavour enhancer. “There’s a very important interaction between taste, flavour, smell and the effect,” says Nutt. “People say: ‘I just love the taste of my 1984 Chateau Latour,’ and I say to them: ‘The truth is you wouldn’t if you had never got drunk on it. If you gave that to your child, they would spit it out. You acquire the love of the taste. What gives you the love of the taste is the effect of the alcohol and, of course, the knowledge that it’s really expensive.’” But whatever flavour/effect ratio drives our alcohol appreciation, we have chosen, he says, “to ignore the harms of alcohol because we enjoy it. What I’m trying to do is provide something to enjoy that is much less harmful. That’s the ambition.”


5 Real Women Share What It Was Like Giving Up Alcohol for a Month

The benefits (and downsides) surprised them&mdashand it might surprise you too.

Until last month, I did not fully understand the effects of alcohol. Sure, I𠆝 experienced a tipsy night out and enjoyed the next day’s lovely hangover. But when I gave up alcohol (one of many rules of the Whole30 program, which I did in January), I gradually became aware of how much things change when you part with your Pinot noir.

I definitely experienced health perks: I was able to focus my energy on quality catch-ups over coffee, didn’t have liquor-induced late night cravings, and made it to more morning workout classes than usual. Yet what shocked me was how much my social life shifted over the course of 30 days.

A friend’s request to meet for a “quick drink” led to my long explanation about my no-alcohol decision, and the few times I made an effort to meet friends at a bar were pretty exhausting. (Seltzer with lime is not a vodka Redbull). One time, I even purposely withheld the fact that I was abstaining from a friend who wanted to meet at his favorite pub. I didn&apost want him to feel awkward or pressured to change the location.

I’ll admit I went slightly overboard and scarfed down one too many slices of pizza after my first post–Whole30 night out. But saying no to alcohol provided enough benefits to make me want to drink less and do more with my day. Don’t just listen to me—here’s what Health staffers and contributors had to say about their month going booze-free, whether it was because of Whole30 or their own desire to see what it would be like.

"I was more productive on weekends because I wasn't drunk-eating pizza"

“I was doing Whole30, so this was the first time I ever attempted abstaining from alcohol for an extended period of time. At first, it felt empowering that I could attend social events without using wine as a crutch. Plus, I was more productive on the weekends because I wasn’t drunk-eating pizza. I also wasn’t hungover, so I had more time to cook healthy meals. Then during my last week sans alcohol, all I wanted was a drink. More than the drinking itself, I missed the process of getting ready for a big night out and having my friends over for a chat and a few beers before going to our favorite bar. Now that my month is over, I think I’ll drink with more moderation, but I won’t give it up completely.” —Julia Naftulin

"I saved money and lost weight&mdashbut friends pushed me to sip"

𠇏or me, abstaining from alcohol just makes me feel better in general. The older I get, the harder it is to bounce back after a night of drinking, which means the next day I am either stuck in bed or floating around in a hazy state. Plus, cocktails in New York City are expensive. If I stop drinking those $17 margaritas at brunch (I have at least two) every week, that’s $136 I am saving each month. Cutting out liquor will help you lose weight. Now, I’m not talking Revenge Body pounds here, but you’ll certainly notice a difference. That said, there is one drawback to going dry, and it’s how some of your friends will react. A lot of them will just think you are weird. And some will try and push you to just take a sip. My tip: Quietly order a seltzer and cranberry—it looks just like a vodka and cranberry and you can at least fake it until you make it.” —Rozalynn S. Frazier

"It helped my anxiety and depression, and I couldn't stand being around drunk friends"

“I had never tried to do a dry January before I went on Whole30, and while I thought the overwhelming FOMO would drive me crazy, it was actually a great experience. I quickly found that I couldn’t stand being around super drunk friends, so I limited my socializing. But it was worth it for the effects abstaining had on my body. Not only was I able to get up early the next day and hit the gym or get errands out of the way, but I felt that sobriety had a huge impact on my mood. Normally, I struggle with anxiety and depression, and after a night of drinking I often find myself with what I call an emotional hangover—grogginess that is more mental than it is physical. When I wasn’t drinking, all of those wasted weekend mornings disappeared, and I found my mood was better throughout the entire week because of it.” —Nora Horvath

"I spent more time with my daughter connecting, not battling"

“I’ve lived most of my adult life, with the exception of pregnancy, bookending my days with caffeine and at least one or two giant glasses of wine after work. And my tolerance was such that I thought nothing of polishing a bottle of wine at a party. So I figured I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of giving booze up entirely before I start more seriously considering whether I had a problem with alcohol.

𠇏or the first three days, that after-work glass of wine was all I could think about and if I even caught a whiff of sugar in my vicinity, I would hunt it down and devour it. Yet I was sleeping through the night, and waking up a hell of a lot clearer. I also broke out it was like my skin was detoxing too. Another change was the way I was attacking my Pilates classes suddenly I was ripping through them with energy I&aposd only read about. By week two, I was humble-bragging that I was sober two weeks and probably didn’t need to drink ever again. But by week three, despite feeling good, sleeping more, waking rested, and dropping about 5 pounds, I started longing for wine again. And I had to severely curtail my socializing so that I wouldn’t be triggered into drinking.

“Thirty days of not drinking did do some things as promised: I had more energy. I slept deeper, and I woke less often. I dropped a few pounds. I spent more time with my teenage daughter connecting and listening, not battling. And maybe my skin was a little fresher in the end. I&aposve been drinking very little since maybe every other day or two, I’ll have a single small glass of wine. And I’m cool with it. Now, on to coffee. ” 𠅊ndrea Dunham


Top secret ingredients

The Social Drinks company are in the process of patenting the ingredient combinations that are active on the brain, and they remain top-secret. But the flavour comes from cardamom, blackberries, and hibiscus. I spoke to Professor David Nutt, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit at Imperial College London, before I tried it. Other ingredients, such as pepper and liquor ice, are meant to promote the uptake of the active ingredients into the brain so the effects of the drink are felt faster, Nutt had said.

Nutt, who is the UK government's former drugs czar, co-created the drink with Vanessa Jacoby, a botanical alchemist. He is best known for advocating in 2009 that ecstasy and LSD were safer than drinking alcohol — he was sacked by the UK government afterwards. His life ambition, he says, is to tackle the impact of alcohol addiction. Sentia is part of Nutt's plan to raise money to develop similar products that target the brain's GABA receptor, and eventually, he hopes to sell to a mainstream multinational drinks producer.

Nutt told me you can drink Sentia neat, with a mixer like tonic water or Coca-Cola, or with alcohol in a cocktail.

If you drink it with alcohol, you just get drunk as normal, he said.

I sunk into the sofa, sipping away, studying Sentia's label. I noticed that there was no "percentage" strength measure, as you would expect to see on an alcohol bottle. This was coming in future, Nutt had told me earlier.

The effects of my Sentia shot kicked in after about 20 minutes and lasted for around half an hour. I didn't feel more chatty at first, just relaxed. I floated off the sofa and cooked my lockdown dinner with ease.

'The effects of a double shot of Sentia lasts for about an hour,"Nutt had said. "You can have up to three shots, but the relaxing effect plateaus after that." Nutt recommended having no more than 200 ml of Sentia in one day — there haven't been any studies looking at what would happen if you drink more than this.

I poured another glass — my second 25 ml shot, about 20 calories a go — and the purple liquid swirled around the ice. I had asked Nutt whether it would be risky if people binged on Sentia, as they do with booze.

"We can't guard against it. If it is drunk in the way we recommend, people shouldn't come to harm," Nutt said. "If you want to get wasted, it's not for that. And it doesn't make you hallucinate."

Sentia continued to work its magic on my GABA receptors after shot number two. My brain went to the clouds: I felt light, floozy, like after a yoga class. I was utterly relaxed.

I wondered whether people would use this before high-pressure situations, instead of coffee or a cigarette. And if so, could you drive on it?

Nutt had said that Sentia could be drunk at any time of day, but was designed for "civilized, convivial, social evening situations." He said that it was unlikely to cause physical dependence — like alcohol can — but "people could really like what it does," like coffee. As for driving, Nutt said that people should be "conscious of any effects that they're experiencing and act responsibly as a result."

After 45 minutes I was feeling a bit more energized by the berry-like icy drink, in the mood for a low-key chat. Luckily, my brother was just back from work.


The colorful Barsys will automatically whip up your favorite cocktail

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


'Hangover-free alcohol’ could replace all regular alcohol by 2050, says David Nutt

A new type of synthetic alcohol has been discovered which could allow people to enjoy the sociable effects of a few pints, but skip the hangover that usually follows.

The new drink, known as 'alcosynth', is designed to mimic the positive effects of alcohol but doesn’t cause a dry mouth, nausea and a throbbing head, according to its creator Professor David Nutt.

The Imperial College Professor and former government drugs advisor told The Independent he has patented around 90 different alcosynth compounds.

Two of them are now being rigorously tested for widespread use, he said – and by 2050, he hopes alcosynth could completely replace normal alcohol.

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“It will be there alongside the scotch and the gin, they'll dispense the alcosynth into your cocktail and then you'll have the pleasure without damaging your liver and your heart,” he said.

“They go very nicely into mojitos. They even go into something as clear as a Tom Collins. One is pretty tasteless, the other has a bitter taste."

By researching substances that work on the brain in a similar way to alcohol, Professor Nutt and his team have been able to design a drug which they say is non-toxic and replicates the positive effects of alcohol.

“We know a lot about the brain science of alcohol it's become very well understood in the last 30 years,” said Professor Nutt.

“So we know where the good effects of alcohol are mediated in the brain, and can mimic them. And by not touching the bad areas, we don't have the bad effects.”

Advocates of alcosynth believe it could revolutionise public health by relieving the burden of alcohol on the health service.

According to Alcohol Concern, drinking is the third biggest risk factor for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity.

"People want healthier drinks," said Professor Nutt. “The drinks industry knows that by 2050 alcohol will be gone."

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

1 /10 The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

10. Poland

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

9. Germany

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

8. Luxembourg

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

7. France

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

6. Hungary

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

5. Russia

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

4. Czech Republic

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

3. Estonia

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

2. Austria

The 10 countries that drink the most alcohol

1. Lithuania

"They know that and have been planning for this for at least 10 years. But they don't want to rush into it, because they're making so much money from conventional alcohol.”

Early experiments into alcosynth, such as those reported on by BBC’s Horizon in 2011, used a derivative of benzodiazepine – the same class of drugs as Valium.

Mr Nutt said his new drinks did not contain benzodiazepine, and their formulas would remain a closely guarded, patented secret.

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However, the huge cost of funding research into the drug and regulatory concerns mean it could be a long time before people can order an alcosynth cocktail at their local pub.

Professor Nutt, who was sacked from his position as the government drugs tsar in 2009 after he claimed taking ecstasy was less dangerous than riding a horse, said he was unsure if the use of synthetic alcohol would be restricted by the new Psychoactive Substances Act, which came into force in May.

“It’s an interesting idea, but too much in its infancy at the moment for us to comment on,” a Department of Health spokesperson told The Independent.

“I don’t think we’d give money to it until it was a little further along,” said the spokesperson. "If [Professor Nutt] were to apply for funding, it would go through the process of everything else and would be judged on its merits.”

“It would be great for producing better workforce efficiency if no one was hungover,” they added.

According to Professor Nutt, the effects of alcosynth last around a couple of hours – the same as traditional alcohol.

He said he and his team have also managed to limit the effects of drinking a lot of alcosynth, so in theory it would be impossible to ever feel too 'drunk'.

“We think the effects round out at about four or five 'drinks', then the effect would max out,” he said.

“We haven't tested it to destruction yet, but it's safer than drinking too much alcohol. With clever pharmacology, you can limit and put a ceiling on the effects, so you can't ever get as ill or kill yourself, unlike with drinking a lot of vodka.”

Researcher Guy Bentley worked with Professor Nutt on a new report by the liberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute into alcosynth regulation.

Mr Bentley told The Independent he hoped to persuade the government to accept the drug as a way of reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

“[The report] is trying to spark what happened with e-cigarettes and tobacco, but with alcohol," he said. "Professor Nutt has been experimenting on this for a long time, but I thought to myself - ‘where is it?’ I wanted my hangover-free booze.”

However, not everyone was as keen on the new discovery.

Neil Williams, from the British Beer and Pub Association, said alcosynth was not necessary, as “there are other ways of avoiding a hangover”.

“There are plenty of low-strength drinks, particularly beers,” he told The Independent. “We should all drink in moderation so we shouldn’t need to have a hangover anyway.”

“I’d want to know more about it before I tried it myself,” he said.


The Goopification of grapes: why ɼlean wine' is a scam

Cameron Diaz gives a happy sigh. “I’m really excited,” she says to her friend Katherine Power. On the table are two bottles of their new wine, Avaline, launched mid-July.

“We were mad for a while,” adds Diaz. “You were a little bit more mad than I was. You had some real anger.”

When Diaz and Power decided to make their own wine, they discovered there’s more to it than fermented grape juice. “No transparency, no labelling,” says Power, so shocked by what she found, she threw out all her wine.

The pair, speaking on Instagram, say they became determined to make a “clean”, chemical-free wine and are now, according to their publicist, on a mission “to bring transparency to the wine industry”.

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They’re not the only ones. Out of nowhere has come Good Clean Wine, which “pairs with a healthy lifestyle” the Wonderful Wine Company, which offers “wellness without deprivation” and Scout & Cellar, a multi-level marketing company that boasts of its “clean-crafted wine” and intends to “disrupt the wine industry and do better for the planet”, among others.

Dr Creina Stockley sighs when she hears this over Zoom. “I’ve been in the industry for close to 30 years and this comes up periodically, just under different names” – “minimal intervention” is one she remembers – “it’s a marketing exercise.”

A pharmacologist and lecturer at the University of Adelaide, Stockley is a world authority on wine additives and processing aids, the heart of this issue.

Unlike the food industry, winemakers don’t have to list ingredients. This has opened a door for opportunists, who profit by claiming that other wineries fill their wines with noxious chemicals (they don’t).

The clean wine companies are chasing a lucrative prize – a piece of the $52.5bn wellness market. A Scout & Cellar recruitment video notes 68% of consumers will pay more for products if they’re free of ingredients perceived as bad disparaging the competition is good marketing. It’s also working the company reportedly made $20m in 2018, its first year.

Strangely, for companies committed to ripping the lid off the wine industry, the clean wine gang is pretty quiet about where their own wines come from, and most declined to be interviewed. Where many wineries love giving encyclopaedic detail about the hill where their grapes are grown, for example, the Wonderful Wine Company simply says its white comes from “France”.

“People are very interested in origin stories,” says Brian Smith, CEO of Winc Wines, which launched the Wonderful Wine Co in May, “but the modern consumer is looking for ‘how does this fit into my life?’”

Winc Wines, founded by Smith and Geoff McFarlane, is one of the US’s most sophisticated online direct wine businesses. Asked how Wonderful Wines offer “wellness without deprivation”, Smith says they use organic grapes “wherever possible” and don’t manipulate their wines.

Sauvignon blanc grapes in Loir-et-Cher. Photograph: Cyrille Gibot/Alamy

Which is an interesting claim, because wine doesn’t make itself. If you drop Vitis vinifera grapes in a tub and leave them, they ferment, but what you’ll get is vinegar or cloudy, sour wine. Winemaking is both art and science and, over centuries, winemakers have learned to prevent taints and spoilage, from using sulfur dioxide as an anti-bacterial and antioxidant, to dropping egg whites into the wine to remove harsh-tasting tannins, a process known as fining.

Yet only 40 years ago, a wine could be good one year and horrible the next. Since then, an explosion of microbiology, chemistry and viticulture research has driven a quality revolution.

Today’s winemakers have an array of yeasts, antimicrobials and fining agents to choose from. Some function as ingredients that go into the wine, like extra acidity to perk up grapes from warm regions. Others are processing aids, mostly used to take things out of the wine. Some have terrifying names, like polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP), but it’s the same binding agent found in aspirin tablets. It’s sometimes used to reduce colour, to achieve pale pink rosés. Such aids are legally defined and heavily regulated, and they don’t stay in the wine.

But all this research has also allowed commercial winemakers to create bland, homogeneous wines that taste the same each year, regardless of vintage variation. In the US, some mass-market red wines have grape concentrate added – the best known of which is Mega Purple – to give extra colour and sweetness. It’s illegal to add concentrate in the EU, where nothing can be added that changes the essential nature of a wine.

Many wine lovers are appalled by such practices, which render terroir – the origin, or sense of place – redundant and the backlash has led to a new category: natural wines. These are made by the “nothing added, nothing taken away” principle, usually from organic grapes.

But between natural and mass-market wines lies a vast and varied world. Just because winemaking tools exist doesn’t mean people use them – wineries don’t spend money on things they don’t need and artisanal winemakers, in particular, pride themselves on their hands-off approach. Stockley says, in any case, that modern wine needs less intervention than in the past, partly because winemakers have “learned to make things smarter and better”, but mostly because of improved grape growing. Some winemaking aids are no longer permitted until 1997, animal blood could be used for fining. Ferrocyanide, which Scout & Cellar claims is a common additive in commercial wines, was a processing aid that’s no longer legal.

So why not list ingredients? Dr Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, secretary general of the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (Ceev), which represents the EU’s wine sector, says it’s because wine isn’t made by an industrial process. While, say, a commercial bakery works to a strict, unchanging recipe, winemaking decisions change each vintage. Asking a small winery to update labels every year would impose an economic burden.

Grape harvest season for wine production in southern Spain. Photograph: SALAS/EPA

“If you have anything in the wine with potential allergenic effects, you are obliged to indicate that on the label,” however, and he adds the wine sector understands that modern consumers want transparency. Legislative change is under way in the EU.

“I expect that by the end of 2022 there will be labels on wine,” he says, adding they will either be traditional labels or e-labels. They will list ingredients, not processing aids – nor will they show if the producer used pesticides.

“Now you’re opening up a can of worms,” says Jamie Goode PhD, wine writer and author of wine textbooks. “You can’t grow grapes from Vitis vinifera without spraying eight to 14 times a year. The problem is mildew and then, at the end of the growing season, rot.”

One of wine’s paradoxes is that the most prized, expensive grapes come from regions prone to fungal diseases, which can only be treated with commercial pesticides or, for organic growers, applications of copper sulfate. “It’s all about the concentration,” says Goode, adding: “There are strict regulations concerning their use and concerning residue levels that are permitted. Wine is one of the most regulated and safe products there is.”

Promising ultraviolet light therapies are being trialled that may eliminate pesticides forever but, for the moment, there is another potential way to avoid them. It’s to farm in drier, warmer areas with less disease pressure, like Languedoc in southern France – birthplace of the Wonderful Wines white.

There are plenty of warm regions producing grapes at lower cost. California also has a grape glut right now and there’s more wine in tanks than many wineries know what to do with. Some use the best for themselves, then quietly sell the rest to what’s known as the bulk wine market, where everything from commodity grapes to certified organic wines are sold. Wineries also use their excess to make on-demand wines for buyers. In a twist, these “exclusive” wines often come from big wineries despite being thoroughly conventional, they can even be marketed as “minimal intervention” or “clean”, because these are meaningless terms.

It’s a type of wine known as private label, which can be highly profitable because the seller doesn’t have vineyards or wineries to maintain. Most winemakers talk obsessively about their land and heritage (try and stop them), so if these details are missing or vague, the wine could be private label, although some mass-market brands also omit this information.

A terraced hillside cabernet sauvignon vineyard in Sonoma county, California. Photograph: George Rose/taken from the Newsroom

Diaz and Power’s Avaline, for example, is silent on who makes it. Then there’s Scout & Cellar’s $25 Gallivant chardonnay, whose web copy says it’s made by a fifth-generation family winery founded in Monterey in 1883, but not which one. In contrast, consider the $18 Wente Vineyards Morning Fog chardonnay, which has a downloadable technical sheet explaining the region, soils and winemaking. Coincidentally, it’s also made by a fifth-generation family winery founded in 1883 in Monterey.

Unfortunately, all wine, however it’s made, contains a dangerous chemical: alcohol. No matter how sustainably the grapes are grown nor how consciously it’s made, there is no wine that won’t deliver a hangover if you drink too much.

Wine is not a wellness potion. It’s a snapshot of time, a manifestation of the place and the people who made it, which works a special magic when paired with friends and food.

When it comes to clean wine, the only thing being cleaned is your wallet.

Felicity Carter is the editor-in-chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International magazine